The Unusual Case Of The Modern Malaise:
I’m losing a fight against an illness. You might understand the symptoms. I can’t focus on finishing a book, I lose interest in movies a few minutes into them, and feel long conversations boring. I feel like I’m being drunk over my devices instead of choosing to live intentionally.
Yes, that’s the name of the disease, Fatal Distraction. I’m filling every still moment in my life with the action that my smart phone provides. What’s more, I don’t need doctors, there’s a steady supply of content on YouTube and a bottomless pit of Twitter posts ever ready to take care of me.
The Social Organ:
Our brains are social organs, and we thrive on connection. What separates us from animals is our desire to belong, our desire to matter and to make an impact in the world. We see our identities in relation to how others perceive our presence and the extent to how much we matter in our communities.
Add technology which has connectivity in its DNA and we are immediately intrigued. Social media hacks this vulnerability with the promise of connection and an infinite network that makes it irresistible to our brains. And that’s how we begin our relationship with technology, which has the power to disrupt as much as it can help us create and collaborate.
A Fuel To depression And Anxiety:
In our daze of distraction addiction, we shift our attention between the real and the virtual world constantly. As a result, whenever we look at our friends’ or celebrity status updates, accomplishments and vacation pictures, we’re plucked out of our present moment and planted somewhere we don’t want to be.
For example, when we look at Jennifer Lopez’s flawless fitted gowns, we crave a body we can’t have, we admonish ourselves for our harsh reality and become all the more miserable in this comparative narrative.
When our self-esteem takes a hit, our need for a better ending to our current situation arises, and the rate at which we procrastinate with the task at hand exponentially rises. And, the opposite is true, when we post a picture of ourselves, we hit a high note of dopamine every time someone likes it or comments on it. This combination of novelty with the variable reward system of hitting refresh to constantly check on our feeds is the sad backdrop to our ever present loneliness and reality.
Our inability to stay in the present moment is triggered by boredom, and a craving for excitement that this unpredictable world of online engagement offers. It’s a perfect recipe and source for anxiety and depression when expectations are not met consistently.
Wired And Tired:
What we forget though is that while the allure of the online world is undeniable, it is not curated for our own needs. Like with the nature of a book, the internet is infinite and doesn’t have a last page.
This perpetuity means the internet is ubiquitous. The avalanche of information can be overwhelming, confusing and indecisive, especially, for us who’re seeking to cope from real life.
Offline, we become moody and irritable because real life is not stimulating enough. As a result, we’re developing digital fatigue. Add to it, the self-inflicted problem of surpluses.
A Society Paralyzed By Choices:
Choice paralysis is the inability to choose from the diverse choices that are at our finger tips. In this age of abundance and infinite browsing mode, having dozens of options for icecream flavors, shoes and life partners is becoming a source of constant anxiety.
Take for example ereading, so many books yet we can’t decide for once what book we want to “crack open” to read.
When we simplify, we decide promptly and well. There’s no surfing endlessly on Netflix and crashing onto our remote controls late into the night. But, we’re forgetting that the choice can literally be to simplify radically.
No Tone, No Intent, No Emotion:
Our online messages have no tone, none of our intended emotion and can’t demonstrate our intended nonverbal cues. People are becoming victims of their own stupid behavior online, because the internet has the memory of an elephant. The dark side of the internet is becoming violent and graphic thanks to fake screen names and masked IP addresses.
Our social landscape doesn’t just have a grandma, or a friendly neighbor. We are now surrounded by thousands of online bullies, and enthusiastic keyboard warriors. Unlike in traditional activism, unfortunately, most people engage in this form of online activism if its easy (in this case, a click of button to spread the message), non-committal and comes at no particular personal cost.
Big Tech is running it’s machinery on a concept called the BUMMER method. It works on acquiring our attention by giving attention to the most obnoxious and unpleasant people on the internet. The word for it is pretty intuitive. It’s Asshole Supremacy.
Social Media and Our Engagement:
Many of us are spending many hours daily building superficial social capital. Likes, comments, shares – This is the Attention Economy that we live in. In 2018, New York Times had reported that the standard price for 25,000 fake followers on Twitter was $225.
We are taking down pictures if they don’t get enough likes. We’re becoming engulfed in comparison traps with friends and strangers alike. We’re using click bait and memes to cope with conspiracy theories and fake news. We’re allowing the sum of the likes to make up the essence of our identity.
1100 college students commit suicide every year in the US. High standards of life are brought about stupid comparison stories people tell themselves in their head. We only show case our highlight reel on the internet for everyone see. As a result we’re becoming performance and competition oriented, narcissistic, entitled, and obsessed about perfection.
People are giving their devices more company than their loved ones who’re sitting across them in the same room. Hotels, restaurants, books, movies – Some books on Amazon.com have 3000 comments. 20 some year olds across America are spending their entire days scrolling through Reddit in coffee shops and living rooms.
Brother Tech Is Always Watching:
Our smart devices come with built in algorithms so that our phones can keep track of our changing behaviors. Our attention is Big Tech’s bottom line, because they are selling our data which leads to targeted advertising.
The data of what our eyeballs are watching every day is being collected. Due to privacy issues the data generated is not specific to individuals but can predict with near accuracy what a general demographic is doing.
A Generation Zapped:
Studies show that 40% of teens say the adults in their lives are chronically distracted. It’s no surprise, addictive tech behaviors have become alarmingly evident.
The first thing we reach out to when we can even perceive the slightest hint of boredom is our phone. The last thing we kiss goodnight is usually a deeply personal digital device. The first thing we check on in the morning is our smart phone’s wellbeing and safety. Before we ingest the food on our plates, we must post it for strangers and friends miles and miles away to acknowledge and like it. We’ve more programs and content in our bucket list than we will be able to watch in our lifetime.
When describing the poverty of attention, Herbert Simon, the Nobel Prize winner for Economics in 1978 says, “What information consumes is the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
The point is, how can there be anything on the other side of the screen that’s more important than what’s happening in our real lives in real time? Are we not living as if our busyness is just a proxy for our productivity? It’s in our hands to stop consuming everything that meets the eye, to take back the control and to stop living in the margins.
How is our future sustainable this way? How long will we continue to be stay zapped under a technology spell?
Forget all this. Here’s one question I want you to ask yourself. “Is technology enhancing my personal human capital, or depreciating it?”